Thursday, September 16, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Village Park residents listen to a toxicologist and attorneys talk
about the results of a survey on illnesses in their neighborhood.

Health study
likely to spur

Residents of Village Park
are told pesticides may be
responsible for illnesses

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Attorneys and a toxicologist who conducted a health survey of Waipahu's Village Park residents say they have enough data to sue pineapple and sugar plantations and the chemical companies which supplied their pesticides.

Residents of Village Park have believed for years that they have a greater tendency to get sick because they live around former pineapple and sugar cane soil that has been subjected to pesticides.

Last night, more than 100 residents were told by UCLA toxicologist James Dahlgren that there appears to be higher instances of certain illnesses, including asthma, sinusitis and auto-immune diseases such as lupus among Village Park families.

Art However, some of the earliest advocates involved with helping Village Park residents find the source of their health concerns say they are skeptical of the attorneys' motives.

"We believe we are in the early stages of data gathering to find out why people are ill," said Kat Brady, assistant executive director of Life of the Land. "Their goals are completely different from ours," she said, adding that there was little information presented last night that was new to her group.

"Their priority seems to be suing corporate interests rather than determining why our people here are sick," said Village Park resident Cheryl Yamane, one of the leaders of the Citizens for a Safe Environment.

Three of her children suffer serious ailments the Yamanes believe have been caused by pesticides in the environment.

Brady noted that the state is conducting a soil study to look for contaminants.

Of 2,010 surveys sent out, 613 came back, about 30 percent.

Dahlgren said about 38 percent of respondents reported asthma among their families. The national average is 6 percent. There were nine cases of lupus when normally no more than two would be found, he said. The average time of residence in Village Park for a family reporting lupus was 14 years. In addition, 12 percent of the families reported arthritis and 20 percent problems with reproductive organs.

The toxicologist, also a medical doctor, acknowledged that the survey was not scientific and that further study would need to be done, but said there is enough evidence to point to likely culprits.

Dahlgren said there's no question groundwater serving Village Park is contaminated since the Board of Water Supply uses a filtering system to clean it.

The board, anticipating questions that would arise from the survey, yesterday issued a release assuring Village Park residents that their tap water is processed through granular activated carbon filters that remove contaminants.

"One thing is clear and that's liability in this case," said Honolulu attorney Glenn Stanford.

Pesticides including ethylene dibromide, dibromo chloropropane and trichloropropane may have been legal to use in the past, but here they were used improperly, Stanford said.

The "responsible parties" include both the plantations and pesticide manufacturers, Stanford said, adding that the companies he and other attorneys intend to sue include Del Monte, Dole, Libby McNeil, Oahu Sugar, Dow Chemical and Shell Oil.

The state and federal governments would not be party to the lawsuit, the attorneys have said.

Stanford said his law firm and four others are prepared to spend up to $10 million in litigation costs and won't take any money from residents except under contingency.

Resident Charlene Ikeda said she doesn't believe any illnesses in her family of six have been caused by what's in the environment. Still, she said, "I'm very concerned for the others. We have to get to the truth of the matter."

Like Ikeda, resident Darrick Tsuha said his family have taken the precaution of installing water systems.

Tsuha said his two teen-age boys have grown up healthy, but he worries now after hearing that male reproductive organs can be damaged by certain pesticides. "I'm pretty much worried."

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